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Voices from the East
Documents on the Present State and Working of the Oriental Church

By the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.

London: Joseph Masters, 1859.

Chapter VI. Letter to a Roman Neophyte

S. Petersburg, Oct. 23, 1856.

HAVING no theological occupation so important as yours, my dear B., I hasten to reply from my own poor stock of theology to your profound arguments, without procrastinating my answer for months as you did. What can we do? We, who according to you, are in such want of instruction, because our education has not been completed in a Jesuit College You accuse me of writing bitterly, and you think that I bear malice. Not so: it is to your random assertions, and to the inconsiderate disdain which you manifest towards the Church you have left, not to yourself, that I thus feel. It is always so with deserters: none are so harsh in condemning a cause as those who have left it. In spite of all the calm and all the felicity of which you boast in your letters, your heart involuntarily pines, if not for your mother Church, at least for your mother country: and that is another reason for your being anxious to detract from that which you have abandoned.

You are mistaken if you imagine that I close my eyes to our many imperfections, or regard everything as perfect because it is to be found amongst us. I see all the imperfections with which you can reproach us as I see also those which exist among you: the difference is that ours are external, and so far corrigible; yours internal, and therefore the harder to be corrected. This consideration confirms me in the truth of our holy Church. So far as I see, the true duty of a zealous son of the Church is to endeavour by all possible means to correct the abuses which have entered it, if such there be, and not because of them to desert to the opposing camp. After all, this violent attack of the West on the East, has only existed for the last fifteen or twenty years.

You ask me what has been the effect of the pamphlet of Prince Gagarine, entitled La Russie sera-t-elle Catholique? And you promise us some other works of the same kind. To tell you the truth, we could only smile at it. When I read in it the author's remarks on the different abuses of lay-power in our Church, and the corrupted state of our clergy, I was hoping that he would propose some remedy as a cure for the disease: but when I arrived at the last chapter, and then discovered that the only alternative was "Revolution or Catholicism," a smile was the only possible reply. What absurdities are believed in the West because they are asserted by those who have been Princes in Russia! Is it possible that any one can be so ignorant of the spirit of our nation and the state of our clergy, as this author is, when he speaks of the three powers which can seal among themselves a union of peace and reconciliation? But if one of the members of the higher clergy whom he suspects of an inclination towards Rome, were to propose seriously a union with her, the congregation would stone him on the spot: with such a degree of aversion has the West inspired the Russian people so gentle by nature, but which has not forgotten the intrigues of the Jesuits at the time of the false Dimitri, and the oceans of blood which they cost us.

It is wrong, say you, to accuse the Roman Church of pride and ambition. Had I ever doubted I should now be convinced. The Papal nuncio, a prelate of brilliant talents and amiable disposition, arrived at Moscow some days after the late coronation: yet purposely delayed no doubt in consequence of instructions he had received, in order that he might not assist at a religions solemnity in a schismatic temple, although some days later he made no difficulty in dining with the Mussulman Ambassador. As he had expressed a desire to visit our shrines, I offered to take him over the cathedrals in the Kremlin, and to explain to him their sacred antiquities. All the chapter was assembled, as well as some persons of the high nobility. The nuncio and his suite entered the Church, as if it had been a profane edifice, without expressing the least mark of veneration for the holiness of the place. When we entered into the sanctuary of the altar, I thought that they would wish to adore the relics which are common to the whole of Christendom, such as the cross, the nail, the seamless coat, and the relics of the Apostles. What was my amazement when I saw them examine these sacred objects with a mere antiquarian curiosity, and by the help of eyeglasses, without even making the sign of the cross, although these relics are neither Greek nor Latin, but belong to Christianity in general. The shrine was at once closed, without, however, the expression of any displeasure whatever, and I continued the explanation of the Cathedral; but many of the bystanders were grievously scandalised. GOD preserve us from such a Catholicity, arising from no want of personal piety, but purely from the Roman spirit which animates the emissaries of Rome.

If you say that it was not consistent with the dignity of a Papal Nuucio to pray in the temple of another rite, here there was no question of prayer, hut simply the respect due to holy things. Not one of us would have failed to render veneration at Rome to the objects of a respect common to all Christendom. If it is thus that Rome desires to arrive at peace, she will never gain her end: for such conduct can excite only hatred and scandal.

Why reproach us with the number of our schismatics who have for two hundred years resisted all the power of our Church to convert them? Have you fewer in the West? Has your struggle with protestantism been crowned with success? You have discovered a new world, and peopled it with your sectaries. Count their numbers in America; are the so-called Catholics of Brazil superior in any respect to the Pagans who inhabited that country? In Europe itself, in France, and in Italy, in what state is Catholicism? Why endeavour to crush with all your might the unhappy East in attacking it with temporal aims, as well as with your Propaganda? Allies of the heterodox, you pervert Greeks without making any impression on Mahometans. Your philanthropic establishments in those regions which you so much boast, have policy, quite as much as religion, for their end. In the interior of her empire, Russia has no want of charitable establishments of all kinds, although we have only one monastic order, that of S. Basil.

It is true also that we attempt nothing without the co-operation, or at least the assent, of government, because it is in close alliance with the Church. And where is the harm? The labours of our missionaries seem to you isolated; but who confided their mission to them except the Church? And if our Church, as you say, is palsied since her separation from Rome, how comes it to pass that the Pagan people of ancient Russia and modem Siberia have been converted to Christianity? The present president of the Holy Governing Synod, when he was Archbishop of Cazan, contributed largely to the organization of the society of missionaries in his diocese. It daily develops itself more fully both among pagans and also sectaries, and that through the sole action of the Church, the inertness of which you accuse. But as I have said, none Is ever so unjust, to his own party, as he who has left it. . . [The writer here again enters into the question of the Immaculate Conception. As that subject has been discussed before, his remarks are here omitted.] Nothing is more out of season than these ultra-montane innovations at the present moment; in the midst of a perfect indifference as to religion, and a profound ignorance as to dogma. Is this the moment to raise a question no less subtle than delicate, which could shake many a conviction when he who holds it is not firm in the faith; many a conviction of those most essential to salvation, and all because you have confounded sanctification with original sin. Nothing can cure you, no example can profit you: would that that most tragic and recent event could open your eyes, the murder of the Archbishop of Paris! See what it is by imposing a new dogma to do violence to the human conscience! GOD forbid that I should speak ill of the dead, and all the more in this case, because the murdered Archbishop had the reputation of piety! but we Russians cannot forget those words which he allowed himself to pronounce on the commencement of the late war, when he was exciting against us a new crusade in defence of the Turks, whom he did not blush to name a sect of Christianity. May GOD have pardoned him for this sin! But one cannot help recalling those words of CHRIST spoken to S. Peter: "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword."

May happiness accompany you in the West. For me, you will permit me to remain with my unfortunate East until the moment when the Loan in His ineffable designs shall have called the Greek Church from the recent humiliation into which the hand of the allies, far more than that of the modern Turks, has plunged her. I will endeavour, as you advise, to hasten the moment of the reconciliation of East and West: I will employ all the talent that GOD has given me, and all my zeal in that work; but by no means in the sense in which you understand such a reconciliation, that is to say the submission of the Orthodox Church to the Church of Rome. I will willingly develop the anti-canonical innovations which put the only obstacles in the way of a universal good understanding. For until they have been removed in a spirit of humility, the reconciliation so earnestly desired will be impossible. I would advise you to read seriously a little book which has just appeared at Moscow, written by a Polish student, Henry Vyttchinsky, at that time a Roman Catholic. Its title is, The Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. It is a most faithful picture of the state and the relations of the Roman Pontificate, not as regards the East, but as respects the West, based on facts and bulls, and not on arbitrary and personal opinions. Read it with attention, and answer it if you can.

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